Alexi John's story

‘I was fascinated by camp craft, tying knots, and axes and tents and making fire … I just thought it was the greatest thing and I really wanted to be in this.’

Alexi joined a New South Wales scout troop when he was nine. It was the early 1970s. Alexi was too young to join, but he attended with an older brother, Peter. Scoutmaster Nigel Blanch cheerfully waived the rules and signed up both brothers.

The troop met one night a week and was divided into patrols of five or six boys each. Blanch was close to one patrol of older boys in particular. ‘There were guys in that who were, if you like, loyal to Nigel, who he had on his side’, Alexi told the Commissioner.

Alexi threw himself into all the activities, and was very keen to take the skills tests and acquire the badges that marked progress in the scout world. He admits he wasn’t paying attention much beyond the demands of each night’s program, but gradually he became aware of something being ‘not right’.

‘It's hard for me to recollect but there was a lot of sexual innuendo being talked, from scout leader to them.’

Alexi was very young and accepted the culture of the troop as normal. Part of this involved Nigel touching the boys frequently. ‘He always was touching. He’d walk past and – like that, on the outside – sometimes you’d be grabbed from behind and [his hand would go] down in your pants.’

After he’d been attending a few months, Alexi’s troop joined a group of scouts on a camp in the bush. Most of the scouts pitched their tents near a river, but Blanch chose an isolated spot away from the others for his troop. On the first night the boys gathered around their own camp fire. There was singing and during one song, when they reached a particular line, ‘everyone exposed themselves. This was like boys’ club. So to me it was normal.

‘It only occurred to me later that there was an older guy – and there were young guys there with their whizzers out.’

As new boys in the troop, Alexi and his brother were told they faced ‘initiation’.

‘They have initiation when you join scouts … They all hold you down, they pull your pants down, they muck around with your bits, then they whack toothpaste on the end of your dick – and then they all spit on it. And then you’re done. It happened to me, I saw it happen to other guys.’

Alexi believes Blanch was watching the initiation from his tent.

‘I was pretty upset by it, ‘cause it was a shock. I wasn’t ready, I didn’t know that was going to happen, I didn’t know the boys would be so brutal in holding me down and doing shit like that. I didn’t come here for that. I came to pitch tents and chase snakes.’

Young Alexi tried to rationalise the ordeal. ‘Well, you’re in this group and this is initiation, and this is all normal and part of it … other guys who were new got done. This is initiation.’

When it was his brother’s turn, Alexi tried to stop the older boys. They grabbed Alexi and put him through the ordeal again in Peter’s stead.

Late that night Alexi was in his tent with his brother when he heard Nigel Blanch softly calling Peter’s name, telling him to come outside into the dark. Alexi sensed danger. He told his brother not to go.

‘After all this, what had happened … I took a stand. I got out my little Swiss army knife.’ He left the tent and confronted Blanch, waving the knife.

‘"You leave me and my brother alone or I’ll stab you." And he laughed at me, he just had this roaring laughter. I remember feeling humiliated.’

A few hours later a violent storm hit the camp, blowing over every tent and wrecking their equipment. The weekend was cut short. ‘It was just as well that that happened, because I don’t think that night was going to get any better.’

Despite the distressing weekend Alexi stuck with the scouts under Nigel Blanch. Alexi loved the activities. His ambition was to earn ‘two stripes’ and become leader of his patrol. Peter gave up the scouts, and Alexi recalls Blanch paid him more unwanted attention after that. He was touched more frequently.

‘He told me I had a beautiful round face, and I had these long beautiful eyelashes, and I was beautiful. And cute. I remember going home and I was trying to cut my eyelashes. Mum busted me.’

When he was 11, Alexi achieved his goal and became leader of his patrol. He felt he was entering the upper echelon of the troop, and he was given more responsibility. Alexi became the quartermaster, looking after equipment in the scout hall’s storeroom.

Alexi soon learned that climbing the scouting ladder in this troop triggered a new level of ‘initiation’.

One night he was led into the storeroom by two of the older boys from Blanch’s favoured patrol. Blanch joined them.

‘And they held me while Nigel got me – up the bum, if you like. It was really quick, it didn’t seem prolonged or anything, but I remember thinking, “You’re supposed to be my friends, why are you holding me? Why are you doing this?”

‘I was struggling as hard as I could but I wasn’t strong enough for them two boys.’

The boys spoke to Alexi as he was raped. ‘They would say to me, “If you want to get somewhere, if you want to be in these next levels, it’s just part of it. Just go with it”.’

Alexi’s commitment to the scouts ended then. ‘That feeling of being betrayed by my own. That was it for me. I just thought, “If you guys can do this, you can do this again and it can be worse”.’

He did not tell his parents what had happened, but instead made excuses for not attending the troop meetings. Alexi eventually took up other activities and convinced his parents he was too busy to manage scouts as well.

‘I went from feeling that I was a really lucky kid to feeling I was a bit unlucky.’ Alexi lost his natural confidence.

‘I became untrusting of every male … I was never going to be alone with a guy who was looking after kids, whether it was a football coach or a hockey coach or a teacher.’

Alexi suppressed his memories of the sexual abuse. ‘I put that away. I put it into a chest, locked it up, threw it down to the deeps of the ocean with lead weights on it and it’s never coming out. That was my way of dealing with it.’

Once, when he was in his 20s, Alexi tried to find Nigel Blanch, intending to confront him. He learned that Blanch had died.

Alexi has lived a full life, but had not disclosed the details of his story until his approach to the Royal Commission. He has occasionally been treated for anxiety and depression, but never found a counsellor he ‘clicked with’.

Media publicity about abusive scout leaders has triggered Alexi’s memory from time to time, but he kept his experience a secret. ‘It was embarrassing. I felt humiliation and I felt a bit of guilt, and I definitely felt ashamed’, Alexi explained to the Commissioner. ‘So there it stayed – until last night.’

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